In conversation with DJ Stingray

“The focus is my Zen. Those two or three hours I’m playing, that’s my special routine and transcendence.”

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He needs no introduction. Mask on, DJ Stingray walks into the room and everyone knows that within two hours’ time, their sweaty bodies will ache for days to come. He’s swift, he’s focused and he doesn’t miss a beat—the Detroit legend can play a week-long set, and we’ll still crave more dystopian sounds meshed with high-energy electro. The last time we hopped on DJ Stingray’s techno rollercoaster was nowhere else than at our party with HUGO at Warehouse Elementenstraat, where he quite literally spun a set for the books. But moments before we got electro-fied so hard we couldn’t speak or move clearly anymore, we stole an up-close moment backstage with Stingray. Here’s exactly what went down.

Hey! First things first, how do you feel in this very moment? Do you still get nervous before playing?

Absolutely not! I can’t wait to go behind the decks and show what I can do. When I first started playing my European gigs, man, my hands would be shaking so bad I could barely control the fader. It’d take ten minutes for my hands to adjust. But in this moment, I can’t wait.

Do you also go in some distant headspace when playing? Or your entire focus is on the dancefloor?

My attention varies between an occasional check of the dancefloor and a focus on my play selection. Because I don’t plan it record by record—I have a base of them and then just fill in. So, it’s part plan, part improvisation.

It’s necessary for you to plan at least a little bit?

Yes, it helps me get started and makes my sets go a lot smoother. It’s semi-planned, however, so there’s room for improv. I don’t go to any specific place in my head for that because I try to stay task-oriented—I’m focused on the levels, my blends and my play selection.

Is there ever a moment when that focus slips away and you end up far away in some transcendental space?

The focus is my Zen. Those two or three hours I’m playing, that’s my special routine and transcendence.

What about the mask? Is DJ Stingray different from Sherard when it’s on?

Yes and no. It’s like a soccer player—when they’re on the field, they may be aggressive or tactical. But once they’re out of uniform and not playing, they might even be the opposite of that. When I put my mask on, I’m not the complete polar opposite of who I usually am. It’s not a Batman or Superman kind of story, I just get in a mood that says, It’s time for business.

Speaking of moods, in an interview from eight years ago, you stated that the world is shrinking. Now, that put me in a particular mood I haven’t been able to escape from. Do you still stand behind those words and feel this way?

Yes, I do. But, while it is getting smaller because we’re able to retreat in our little personal universes on social media, at the same time we’re getting more and more disconnected as we plunge into virtual worlds. There’s also less and less physicality and touching in our interactions, on buses, airports and so on, since everyone’s in their phone. Yes, the world is shrinking—you can find out what’s happening everywhere at any time. But, we’re mentally connected yet physically apart.

Do you think music can bring us together again?

You know, when people come to the club, they come because they want to dance, socialize or even encounter romance. Club culture can definitely be a unifying force, a gathering place you go to when you want to get away from some reality perhaps but also to break the ice with people. Here, safe spaces tie in too. Nobody wants to go somewhere and be harassed.

On this note, have you noticed a certain change of the demography in the clubs you play in?

Well, if I’m playing in Europe, it’s naturally going to be more white. No other place than Berlin, however, manages to always be really wild. All kinds of people and styles can be seen there, and I really like that. As for gender distribution, I look over the set and see people, so I can’t talk much about that aspect. I’m just looking and thinking, Who’s dancing, who’s kissing. But definitely and ultimately, we should all go and have fun. No disrespect, no harassment.

I also want to ask you about the emergence of more and more lyrics in your work. Where does the need to put more words next to your sound stem from?

It’s about connecting to people. Most of us grow up with pop music, which almost always has lyrics. And I feel that people identify a stronger connection when there’re words in a song. They also remember a track better if there’re lyrics. I’m not really a songwriter, but for the future I’d love to work with one and see if we can do some interesting things.

This makes me think about the way you so effortlessly mesh fresh with traditional. How do you do that? Tell us how you keep it ‘spontaneous yet deliberate’.

You know what, I have a vision for this music. I grew up in an era when there was disco, RnB, pop, rock’n’roll and so on, and then all of a sudden electronic music burst onto the scene. Planet Rock, New Order, Tangerine Dream, the list goes on and on—all these new, industrial sounds really inspired me. But this novel rupture in music also instilled in me a need to always create stuff that can be the new Tangerine Dreams, the new Planet Rock. We need to keep that energy and momentum going. That’s what keeps me searching, modifying and changing swiftly. As an artist, there’s just some things you gotta let go of. Otherwise, people just won’t connect with you anymore. Also, I read science, talk to younger artists. That’s how I stay fresh.

Time flew, and your set’s coming up. But Stingray, what’s something you wish people asked you more about?

Wow man, that’s a long list.

Just one thing.

Just ask me more about what the electro-techno sound should be. What should be our basis for constructing music.

Words by Valkan Dechev

Photography by Dustin Thierry

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